Fitness Facts: Hashimoto's disease

Connie Colbert 

By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic

Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It is the most common type of thyroid disease in the United States and worldwide with more than 3 million cases diagnosed yearly in the United States alone.

With this disease, your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck. The thyroid becomes damaged and can’t make enough thyroid hormones. These hormones control many activities in your body, including how fast your heart beats and how fast you burn calories.

This disease often leads to hypothyroidism, which is a lack of thyroid hormone circulating in your body. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include feeling tired, feeling cold when others do not, constipation, weight gain, and heavier-than-normal menstrual periods.

Hypothyroidism, when severe, can cause your metabolism to slow down, which can lead to weight gain, fatigue and other symptoms

You may not exhibit any symptoms of Hashimoto's disease for years. The first sign is often an enlarged thyroid, called a goiter. The goiter may cause the front of your neck to look swollen. You may feel it in your throat, or it may be hard to swallow. But most people don't have any symptoms, and goiters rarely cause pain.

Some women with Hashimoto's disease have problems getting pregnant.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider may suspect Hashimoto’s if a person experiences some of the symptoms associated with the condition. Blood work can reveal a person’s thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH. TSH levels are highest when thyroid hormone activity is low because the body is working harder to produce more thyroid hormone.

Additional blood work may help to confirm a diagnosis, including testing for antibodies and other thyroid hormones. If a person does not have antibodies in their blood, an ultrasound can show the size of the thyroid and look for thyroid nodules -- small lumps in the thyroid gland

What causes it?

Some scientists think a virus or bacterium might trigger the response, while others believe a genetic flaw may be involved. A combination of factors (some listed below) may determine your likelihood of developing the disorder.

  • Another Autoimmune disease such as diabetes (type 1), Graves’ disease or Lupus: Having at least one autoimmune disease puts you at risk to develop others.
  • Age: The risk for Hashimoto’s increases with age and the highest risk is between 40 and 60. It also often runs in families.

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